Religious Language

From Verificaiton to myths :D

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  • Created on: 11-06-14 18:57
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Religious language
Definition; `Concerned with what can be said about God not whether or not God exists or
what God is like. Religious language talks about religious and spiritual concepts such as the
nature of God and the afterlife and things outside of our senses.'
Problems with language ­ how should we use language?
Univocal language ­ this means the word has exactly the same meaning at all times. They
mean the same when applied to God as when applied to humans. HOWEVER, if language is
used this way it is anthropomorphising God; brings him down to human level
Equivocal language ­ the same word is used but has different meanings. Words mean
something completely different when applied to God. HOWEVER, this causes another
problem because you can never know what a word means if it means when applied to God
(Aquinas said this could be solved using analogies)
Cognitive/Realist language ­ this means language can be proven and is objective; Michael
Devitt says that it `has its nature whatever we believe, think or can discover: it is
independent of the cognitive activities of the mind'
Non-cognitive/Anti-realist language ­ language is used subjectively; it is a matter of
opinion and emotions and so is dependent of our experience; does not exist outside of the
Parables have different levels of meaning e.g. Parable of the Sower
In the Middle Ages everyone agreed the Bible was the actual word of God but today this
causes a lot of debate
Luther questioned whether it should be interpreted literally
This leads to the question is there only one true interpretation of a text?
Fredrich Schleiermacher was the first person to formulate general rules of interpretation.
He sought to create a systematic theory on how to interpret texts in all realms.
He laid down the ground rules for Hermeneutics (the science of interpretation, especially of
the scriptures)
Schleiermacher believe that a text is a product of an age and that the era is important
because it allows the reader to gradually learn about the authors intentions; `before the art
of hermeneutics can be practised, the interpreter must put himself both objectively and
subjectively in the position of the author'
His theory consists of a dual aspect;
o Grammatical interpretation:- looks at context and general ideas. HOWEVER, Just
using this on its own will lead to a `qualitative misunderstanding' when presented
with concepts such as poetry or allegory which requires greater knowledge of the
`personality' behind the text; or the author's style
o Psychological interpretation:- studied the peculiar combinations that characterize
the work as a whole

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He said that every problem of interpretation is a problem of understanding and even
defined hermeneutics as the art of avoiding misunderstanding
Schleiermacher sought to create a universal theory; `it is to be applied to the works of every
During his time people moved away from merely understanding objective meaning of texts
but also to understand the writers character and perspective
The goal of hermeneutics is to enter the world of the author but even when these principles
are followed we can nOnever attain…read more

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Verification Principle
Analytic propositions (a priori) ­ knowledge gained through logical reasoning; true by
definition e.g. `all bachelors are unmarried men'
Synthetic propositions (a posteriori) ­ knowledge verifiable by empirical evidence; true or
false by experience e.g.…read more

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Criticisms of Weak Verification
John Hick argued that when we die, the truth of God's existence will be verified
Eschatological verification (he uses the Parable of the Eschatological city - two people
walking down a road arguing whether it leads to the celestial city; they will see when they
get to the end).…read more

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Language Games (Philosophical Investigations)
Developed in Ludwig Wittgenstein's second and posthumous book `Philosophical
Investigations' where he tried to get away from the belief that all words are the same and
dismantled the work of his first book;
The Picture theory of representation saw all meaningful asserts to be descriptions and all
meaningful words to be names of object.…read more

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Many mystics such as St. John of the Cross, believe it is possible to talk about God by not
saying what he is but by saying what he is not; the via negative
As a mystical experience is ineffable, the mystics resort to saying what God is not e.g.…read more

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This is another way some philosophers believe that it is possible to talk about God as it
avoids the problems of equivocal language
St. Thomas Aquinas believed that religious language is meaningful but rejected the via
negative because it does not reveal enough about God, instead he turned to analogies
Aquinas believed that language is equivocal meaning it has a different meaning when applied
to God e.g.…read more

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However some thinkers such as Duns Scotus argue that analogy is too vague and leaves us
unable to understand God and his actions
Hick comments that analogy enables us to make some statements about God yet still
preserve the degree of mystery present in Judaeo-Christian theology
Debateable whether it gets around the problem of verification and falsification principle as it
cannot be empirically verified
Richard Swinburne says we do not need analogy at all.…read more

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Peter Vardy observed how some ideas and values are shown through myth all over the
world including creation stories, stories of virgin births and of great floods
For modern day Christians, myths are a way of responding to questions of God, creation and
religious questions. They are not concerned with the literal truth of the story similar to
Myth is used in the Bible to communicate beliefs about the world and God.…read more


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